La Escuela de la Vida: Learning Through Living

By Samantha Cuncannan
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Everyone who goes abroad does for a certain reason, whether it is to immerse oneself in another culture, to travel as much as possible, or just for a change of scenery. A quote from “Romance de la pena negra” by Federico García Lorca perfectly summarizes why I chose to study abroad: “Vengo a buscar lo que busco, mi alegría y mi persona.” Essentially, this translates to “I come to find my happiness and myself.”

I have been dreaming of studying abroad since high school. To me, the question was never “if” I would go, but rather when and where. Once I got those questions answered, everything started coming together. I pictured myself people watching, reading (in Spanish, of course), and journaling from outdoor cafes while sipping café con leche or vino tinto. I would befriend all of the Spaniards and start forgetting how to speak English. When I came home after 10 months in Salamanca, I would be a whole new person. People would mistake me for a Spaniard because of my stylish clothing and the accent I had picked up. However, when I started to make a list of the most important things I have learned in Spain, I realized that what I had envisioned before arriving was slightly superficial.

I would love to say that I have a large group of Spanish friends and that I hardly remember English, but that would be a lie. What is true, though, is that I made some of the best friends while abroad. Although I didn’t want to make friends with a bunch of other Americans, it was nearly inevitable. We were thrown together into a foreign culture and this is what initially brought us together. Later on, we realized how similar we are. It takes a certain type of person to pick up and move to another country, and it was this sense of adventure and curiosity that allowed us to make lifelong bonds. Some of the best advice my host mom gave me was to find people who make you happy and to spend time with them. My friends didn’t fit the mold I had created before arriving, but I couldn’t hold that against them.

Actually, most of my first semester didn’t go exactly as I had planned, but so far it has still been one of the best experiences of my life. The importance of flexibility is another lesson I’ve learned while abroad. I finally realized that just because things weren’t going as I expected didn’t mean they weren’t going in the right direction. There were times when nothing went as planned and I felt like things were spinning out of control. Other times, I was overcome with homesickness, but when I felt this way, I reminded myself that I would be home in a few months and wishing to be back in Salamanca.

How quickly the time passes really struck me. Already, I’m half way through my year in Spain. This year that I’ve been dreaming about since high school is almost over and sometimes I kick myself for missed opportunities and things I wish I had done. Luckily, I realized that a few months in and still have five months left to make the most of my time here. The days and nights I remember aren’t going to be the ones where I stayed home and watched a really good movie online or got a lot of Facebook stalking done. I’m going to remember exploring (and getting lost) in the cobblestone streets of Salamanca, traveling, laughing over a coffee with a friend in our favorite cafe, and the people I’ve met. I’ve been saving up for this trip for years and I have to make it worth it. Like one of my friends said, “If the number on the scale isn’t bigger than the number in your bank account, you did it wrong.” I’ll have plenty of time to worry about money and carbs when I get back to the real world, but for now, I plan to travel everywhere that I can and stuff myself with tapas and Spanish tortilla. Is it wrong to drink five cafés con leche every day? Maybe, but every last drop is worth it.

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